Law enforcement officials are looking for new volunteers to serve as victim advocates.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Collins Police Services want to bolster new recruits for the Victim Response Team, a group of volunteers who provide services.
Since its establishment 13 years ago, the team has been comprised of about 16 volunteers every year, but now volunteers are dwindling.
“I think there is a decline because of the amount of dedication that is required,” said Erin Heinrich, coordinator for the Victim Response Team. “People are just so busy and have so much going on.”
Heinrich said once people get involved as victims advocates, most love it and rarely serve just one year.
Advocates act as liaisons between victims and deputies. Advocates are able to answer questions, console victims and handle follow-ups with the victims so deputies can move on to their next call.
“The police department is very short-staffed, and they don’t have extra hours to sit there and spend all that time with (the victims),” Heinrich said.
Deputies are heavily dependent on victim advocates because there are so many victims who need the help and support deputies can’t always provide them.
“They are very much an integrated part of our agency,” said Deputy Clayton Cross of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. “They are able to deal with victims’ needs and requirements on a much more reliable, day-to-day basis.”
Nancy Hertel, administrative manager for the Lory Student Center director at CSU, has been a victim advocate for almost two years. She said she wouldn’t have known the Victim Response Team existed if she hadn’t been on the receiving end.
Victim advocates met her at the hospital that same day to provide emotional support and help her take care of all the “small things.”
Hertel said the intimidating application process may be contributing to the decline in volunteers. Plus, she said, a lot of people aren’t aware of the Victim Response Team.
“They have to be the right person to stick,” Hertel said. “We’re not doing it for self-glorification. We’re happy to be the behind-the-scenes folks.”
The application process for this position is rigorous and advocates are required to give a good portion of time to this cause.
Advocates must be at least 21, go through 40 to 50 hours of training and commit to at least one year of service. They must also be able to work six, 12-hour on-call shifts a month, including nights and weekends.
The Victim Response Team provides assistance 24 hours, seven days a week and seeks people who are responsible, compassionate and nonjudgmental and can deal with all kinds of crisis situations.
“You get a lot back from this experience, and it makes you realize how much you have,” Heinrich said. “It feels really good to go out and help people.”
Hertel said being a victim advocate requires commitment, but if people are able to set aside the time and are interested, they should consider applying to become an advocate.
“It’s interesting for the general public to know that there is a group out there that jumps into action when people are in crisis (and help) with whatever they might need.”
Staff writer Stephanie Gerlach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about becoming a victim advocate at Fort Collins Police Services, contact Lissa Funk at 224-6089.
For information regarding the application process or volunteering for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office Victim Response Team, contact Erin Heinrich at 498-5147.